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Garmin Fenix 3 navigation

There are a number of ways to use the Garmin Fenix 3 to navigate and make course.

1) You can save a waypoint such as your start or whatever and then select navigation saved location (which will be direction/distance as the crow flies to the waypoint)
2) In the middle of the track you can say trackback to start (which will retrace your exact route including giving you turn by turn navigation instructions, and indications when you are on course or off course)
3) If you have previous waypoints you can make a course out of it. Click Navigation, courses, create new, then add waypoints. Then do the course
4) You can record a course on the fenix, then upload it to Garmin Connect, then go to the garmin connect web site and convert it to a course.

This course can then be sent back to the Fenix with a nice title using the Garmin connect app on your phone. Click Garmin connect, more, courses, click the course, then click the icon in the top left corner to send it to your Fenix.

5) Once you have recorded a course on your fenix you can click history, find the recorded activity, then click Go.
6) You can use Garmin basecamp on your computer to make a route. To do this connect your Fenix to your computer and start basecamp. Find devices in Basecamp and your Fenix will be there. You can right click and “Send to” the entire contents of your Fenix to your computers library.

It’s better to add them to your computers library because it makes it possible to edit without the Fenix. Find the waypoint that is your starting point, right click and select create route using selected waypoint.

From there you can add as many waypoints to the route as you want. If working from the library you need to send the route to your Fenix (with the Fenix connected over USB). If editing on the devices internal storage it’s there. Oddly once you resync the route does not seem to show up in Basemap on the internal storage so editing is challenging unless you use the local library (rather than editing the Fenix’s internal storage). Routes created on Basemap never seem to get uploaded to Garmin connect even after you sync the Fenix either through bluetooth of USB. No idea why that is. You can also use Basemap to copy courses created on one Garmin device over to another but the names of the waypoints don’t copy over even if they are identical on this device. To say this whole process is imperfect is an understatement.

March 17, 2017 Posted by | Activity Trackers, GPS Stuff | Leave a comment

Garmin Fenix 3 Sapphire review

Hot no the heals of the Fenix 2 I decided to return it and try the Fenix 3, I was that impressed with it.

The Fenix 3 comes in a host of different models to suit your tastes, and budget. Everything from the bottom end Fenix 3 to the Sapphire all the way up to the Sapphire HR (heart rate). I really had to push my mental limits on price for a watch to reach for this model. I bought it from GPSCity refurb for $529. The difference in price between the Fenix 3 and Sapphire was only $50 and changes to a metal band (although a rubber is included to swap out) and the crystal is a more durable sapphire. So I splurged.

A number of folks may only read this post so I will do it as a stand alone post. For those of you that read the Fenix 2 there will be some overlap, sorry about that.

My use case for this device is potentially an everyday watch, activity tracker, as well as use in sports such as hiking, biking and kayaking.

On with the write up. This is definitely a big watch. I have a small wrist and it’s noticeable. It looks a whole lot more elegant than the Fenix 2 but still noticeable as a sports watch. The metal band that is on the Sapphire is really quite heavy. Top that off with the fact that it is not possible to use the metal band with a handlebar mount and you have an issue. Fortunately they did include a normal rubber band and the screw drivers to change the band. Changing the band is a quick and easy task. I would have preferred that they included a spare set of pins but they did not.

The Fenix 3 includes a dizzying array of sensors (same ones as on the Fenix 2), a digital compass, a barometric altimeter, temperature sensor, gps and accelerometers. All packed in a watch. Without the metal band the weight is not that bad, 85g, the metal band weighs in at over 90g on it’s own. And it is actually possible to wear it sleeping. Even on my small wrist. As with any metal band you will need tools to get it sized right for you. Or take it to a jewler. Be sure and watch the direction you need to push the pins out to remove them, it is marked on the under side of the band.

On initial setup on the watch you have to enter your age/weight/sex etc. I guess this is in case you are going to use the watch face without a phone/computer but this just seems like a silly step.

The Fenix 3 uses a very different kind of screen which they refer to as “1.2-inch sunlight readable Garmin Chroma Display”. It’s focus is two fold, make it readable always (sometimes requiring a backlight), and consume as little power as possible. This is a color screen, but just barely. Don’t go looking for a bright vibrant Apple watch or Samsung Gear like screen. Colors are dull and washed out. That is not the focus point of this watch. It is generally a good display, although I am not sure I like it more than the Fenix 2’s …

The backlight on the Fenix 3 now has a setting that anytime you push a button it comes on. Brilliant (and obvious at the same time). Timeout can be set to anything you want, including always on which I am sure will have dramatic effects on the battery and be a good size distraction while your trying to sleep. I wish they had a setting for on during workouts. This would be handy for when in the forest mountain biking or anywhere there is low light.

The watch is controlled by a series of large buttons around the edge of the watch. This is not a touch screen. This is in keeping with the primary purpose of the watch which is a GPS watch. The buttons have a much nicer feel than the Fenix 2 and can be managed with some light gloves.

One of the major improvements for the Fenix 3 is the addition of support for Connect IQ. This is Garmin’s extensible architecture that allows third parties to release there own apps, widgets (data fields for the watch faces), watch faces and data fields (for use in activity screens). Connect IQ is managed from the Garmin connect app on your phone that then sends them over to the watch. Connect IQ support is a HUGE move for Garmin. I love the idea of it but Garmin seems to have SEVERELY limited Connect IQ. You can only have a set number of “open slots” that you can install these into and only so much space for them. Garmin gave you an area to manage the storage which shows you within the phone app how much storage and slots are available but you can not uninstall from this same screen. Clumsy. And the built in Garmin apps/widgets etc can be disabled but do not free up space. I had some challenges trying to figure out how to add back an app I had removed/hidden. Turns out its done on the watch not the phone. And try and uninstall from the phone your current watch face and you get a nasty failed message with no hints as to why. And once you’ve downloaded to your phone a particular app/widget etc they remain on your phone cluttering your lists indefinitely. As a neat freak this is troubling. I know get over it, but really Garmin could have done a much better job of this. I have to say the way it’s done takes a lot of the excitement of having this wonderful and extensible feature. Dear Mr Garmin … please please pretty please work on Connect IQ. Signed your loyal customer πŸ™‚ I do digress .. Oh and be aware that installing these apps/widgets etc while your fussing with a bunch of them really can smoke your battery fast … I had an issue that deleting watch faces was not freeing up slots to install another one, this was only resolved by a reboot of the watch. Oddly also missing is the ability to change the watch face from the phone, it can only be done on the watch. And on the watch there’s no preview so your stuck finding the name of the watch face on the watch and then finding it on the watch. Again, clumsy …

I love the ability to get different watch faces. I found the device and it’s screen lend itself far better to digital rather than analog ones. There are about 900 different watch faces out at time of writing. Here are some of my favorites:
Steam Guage 38aa7012-001d-4c6c-b0b4-fbfd0d5f2772 X-WF f5571054-aba2-4eb0-ad68-268b9dd395d5 GNX Digits 752bc414-1554-4fd4-a8d3-fb0c5e8205deAb Initio c6dd14bc-2e3d-4a9d-8f3d-f6dfb34a55b2LCD Digits ec0f0f6a-6dba-4823-9b9a-b80db8c91f78

There are watch faces that display your heart rate, but these seem to only work with the Fenix’s with heart rate monitor built in. It will not try and connect to an ANT+ heart rate monitor. Similarly there do not seem to be built in apps that will just display the ant+ heart rate data outside of an activity. I did find a third party app that will give you current, min and max heart rate as an activity of it’s own Cardiometer

The Fenix 3 can do complete activity tracking including steps (that gets translated into kms and calories), floors climbed and descended (first time I’ve seen the ability to differentiate between ascend/descend, likely because of the barometric altimeter) and sleep. Steps and kms compared well with my Fitbit however calories are obviously calculated differently between the companies as they varied by over 20% with Fitbit being higher. Sleep stats are very basic but they are there. The watch can easily be worn while sleeping. Garmin even included move reminders, something Fitbit are still struggling to get on more than there newest devices. Like most of these devices they have forgot to pause step counts while in a workout, so I did a ride and it detected a thousands of steps 😦 Just difficult can it be to get this right?
I did notice one really stupid thing. I took the watch off, went to bed and picked up the next morning. As far as it was concerned I had slept 100% the entire time. Doh. Dumb. Oh and Garmin automatically mutes notifications when it detects sleep, brilliant, however they seem to have thought of the possibility of taking it off to sleep and notifications just kept coming, waking me up. Doh, again dumb. The easiest solution to this is to turn on do not disturb mode on the watch and set your sleep time in the phone app (settings, user settings normal bed times). This does cause another issue, if you dont wear the watch while sleeping but it’s on and you have set the normal sleep time connect logs your normal sleep time in Apple health. And I woke up, took the watch off to shower and it thought I had been asleep the time I was in the shower. All in all the sleep area of the watch could use some attention.

Using Garmin Basecamp I was able to transfer waypoint between my other Garmin devices over USB. In fact from what I can see USB is the ONLY way to get waypoints/courses etc to the Fenix 3, you can’t do it over bluetooth or wifi (Fenix 2 was the same by the way). Unlike the Fenix 2 which slowed down when the waypoints got loaded up the Fenix 3 is fine. Waypoints are again sorted by proximity (to your last known location) and there’s no option for alphabetic. Waypoints are now called saved locations rather than user data as they were on the Fenix 2. Makes more sense.

When the watch is being used every day you have access to the altimeter, barometer and compass using the up and down arrow from the time. Garmin created a one screen app that is too confusing for me called ABC. Fortunately you can disable it and have access to each on their own screen. The compass doesn’t include an arrow to north, instead gives you the degrees. Not my preference but heh …

I couldn’t for the life of me get the Garmin weather app to work and lots of people complain about it so …

Watch wise Garmin have hit all the marks with multiple alarms, a stopwatch, and count down timer. You can also create a hotkey shortcut to the count down timer which shortens the number of clicks to get to it. Very convenient. Setting the countdown timer is a little clumsy but not unmanageable.

Garmin oddly refer to activities as apps. You can control which activities the watch displays and can add new ones. For each activity you define the set of screens that will be displayed during that activity. If you don’t add that screen to the activity’s definition you can’t get to it. To get back to the time/apps off the main screen press and hold the down button, then press back to go back to your app. Oddly a visual compass does not seem to be available within a workout but there are ones in the Connect IQ store.
My fav is Compass data fieldb20c6bcc-e3bc-4706-b8dc-732603eab951

Map is there by default now, as is HR Guage. I particularly like the heart rate guage. At a quick glance you can see where you are as well as the zone.

Heart rate alerts have been improved. Setting them is a bit bizarre they give you two thumbwheels to set your min/max (for custom). One has two digits and one has one. So to set 180 you set 18 on the one and 0 on the other. It confused me at first. Once set it works absolutely perfectly. It beeps, flashes the screen and pops the heart rate screen on for you to see. Very well done.

While in an activity (or not) you can start navigation to a pre-saved point or back to start or track back. Saved locations as mentioned above are sorted based on closest to your current location. Once you sort through your waypoints, and this watch can store 1000 (wow) you are ready to navigate to it. Garmin have dramatically improved the navigation screen. Navigation now becomes an added screen on your existing activity (rather than a separate activity as it was on the Fenix 2). On this screen you get an arrow to your destination and the distance to it (albeit in a super small font) on one screen. There’s a fair bit of wasted white space on the screen not sure Garmin didn’t make more efficient use of the space with bigger font/arrow.

When on other screens you get a little arrow showing you constantly the direction to your waypoint. Wow. I am thoroughly impressed by how well they have done this. Thanks Garmin you have restored my faith in you! The map of your current activity is also super easy to read with a nice wide track of where you have been and is easy to see. A really huge improvement

While in an activity you can press and hold the down button and get taken back to the time of day, and can then call up things like the music app, ABC etc. The music app by the way is super basic and even a little clumsy. You can use it to start stop etc the music. It works fine but don’t go looking for song playing etc it’s just not there.

Activities saved can be uploaded through the phone (through bluetooth, so be patient this can take minutes to complete) or you can set them to auto upload using WIFI in which case magic happens and it just works. Next thing you know the activity is on Garmin connect. It seemed to get the password for the WIFI from the phone. This is SUPER convenient.

From a biking point of view you the Fenix 3 supports speed/cadence sensors. There’s no explicit mention of a speed only or cadence only sensor but I believe it supports it. Standing still and spinning the wheel shows a speed so I am pretty sure it uses the wheel sensor to determine speed/distance when available (yay).

Sensor wise you can have multiple sensors in each category. You can manually rename them to something that is more meaningful rather than some silly number of digits. Sensors can easily be added/deleted, something that was an issue on previous Garmin devices. All in all the management of the sensor pool is well done. One odd thing though is there is no way to tell it for an activity to ignore sensors. As soon as you start an activity it attempts to connect to various sensors. The only exception to this is you can decide to turn off the GPS for a particular activity such as an indoor one. Garmin as always support only ANT+ sensors (not bluetooth), but you can always buy dual mode sensors (bluetooth and ANT+) such as the Wahoo Blue SC, Speed or Tickr heart rate monitor.

Battery life on this watch is dependent on what your doing with it. GPS mode draws the most. Watch mode the least. Measuring actual battery life is very difficult unless you dedicate time to doing just measuring the battery life ie not using the watch. So I don’t have actual numbers for you. Garmin claim up to 50 hours in UltraTrac mode; up to 20 hours in GPS training mode; up to 6 weeks in watch mode. I can’t think of too many devices with that can compete with this. Using this device all day while snowboarding/skiing is very possible. Recharge time from dead is a little over 2 hours so not horrible, and is about half of what the Fenix 2 took. In about 2.5 hours the watch dropped a whopping 22% so that would translate out to about 11.3 hours. Way below the 20 hours they quote and well above the Fenix 2.

Garmin include Livetracking which allow you to share your current location, speed distance etc from your current activity. This can be shared over email facebook etc.

Garmin have included functions to find your phone from your watch and your watch from your phone. Assuming it is within Bluetooth range. They do not appear to have included a last seen location for your watch should you loose it. Something Motorola does.

Garmin have included a search utility to find friends, but it found only one. I know others using Garmin connect so I have no idea why …

Notifications are pretty well done on the Fenix 3. You get a nice little buzz on your wrist then the message pops up on the screen (in albeit small font size, unchangeable). This is comprehensive and covers all notifications on iOS including phone calls. You can even decline this phone call from the wathc. This works well and is super convenient while in the middle of a ride. They also notify you when it’s time to get off your butt πŸ™‚ The notifications come up nicely within a ride but the font is so small as to be unreadable. But they go away quickly.

Garmin wisely included the ability to power off the watch. This allows you to power it off and come back to it the next time you want it and it’s all powered up ready to go. A number of others forget this super obvious function. Some people do have more than one watch you know. No really they do!

There are a dizzying array of things to setup on the Fenix 3. And pretty much every one of them have to be setup on the watch itself (can’t be setup on the phone) and none of them can be backed up. Seems like an odd oversight.

There are definitely things that annoy me with the Fenix 3. The menu system and change of buttons from past devices being just a few. But even with that I have to admit this is an amazing watch. If you have a loved one that is into gadgets and like physical activity this may be the perfect decadent toy for them. Will it change your life, well no, but it real is a wonderful piece of technology!

For another even more in depth review checkout DC Rainmer’s review. Always one of the first places I go to for fitness based tech!

I wrote up another post on how to make courses and navigate on the Fenix 3. Check it out.

Update 4/3/2017
I’ve now owned the Fenix 3 for about 5 months now. I have to say, I love this device. It really is a super watch. It performs smartphone notifications, talks to all my cycling sensors, can be mounted on a handlebar (with the rubber band and the optional handlebar mount), can be used for navigation, does activity tracking, the app is pretty good, and battery life is also good. If there is anything missing it is a heart rate sensor. I made a choice to not buy the Fenix 3 HR, given the additional price. This would give you two options. An always with you heart rate monitor for use on activities, and 24×7 heart rate monitoring. As it happens Garmin only periodically check the heart rate (According to DC Rainmaker) so this is not all that useful. And if I am going for ride, I need more accuracy than the wrist mounted would give me anyway. Now at this point the Fenix 5 is out (there is no such thing as the Fenix 4). So what would the Fenix 5 give you that the 3 doesn’t? Garmin now properly do 24×7 heart rate monitoring giving you more accurate resting heart rate numbers. Also, recently Garmin updated Connect IQ and sadly the Fenix 3 was left off the list. A rather troubling move. This means, going forward not all widgets/watch faces will work on the Fenix 3. The Fenix 5 also moved to a more convenient quick connect watch band, a welcome improvement. Fortunately these same bands work on the Fenix 3. Is it worth the additional cash to go for the 5? That’s up to you …

October 4, 2016 Posted by | Activity Trackers, GPS Stuff | Leave a comment

Wahoo Blue SC bike speed and cadence sensor

I last tried the Wahoo speed sensor. A brilliant design requiring no magnets and is easy to install. Sadly Garmin did not include support for speed only sensor in older devices (like my Edge 305) so I returned it.

So onto this sensor. It is the traditional speed and cadence (rate of rotation of the pedals) sensor with two magnets one on the pedal arm and one on the spokes of the wheel. The sensor itself mounts on the chain stay and has to be adjusted to be able to get at each of the magnets. There are two LEDs that light up every time it sees one of the magnets so you can see you got it adjusted right.
And thus comes the first challenge. The magnet to mount on the pedal arm is a continuous loop elastic. The only way to get this onto the arm is to remove the arm from the bottom bracket, or remove the pedal. Either requires special tools that most people won’t have. A stupid design. The easiest way around this would be to cut the loop and cable tie it, but Wahoo did not include holes for a cable ties in the loops so all in all this is really poorly though out for all but bike mechanics.

Ok so now to put this puppy to the test to see who does (and does not) support the sensor. So I went on a 2.5 hour mountain bike ride. On a ride that is tight and twisty like this you can see the difference in distance when compared to the GPS. The sensor will always be higher as the GPS will assume a straight line between sampling points. So to test it out I used Endomondo, Wahoo Fitness app, RunGPS (all on iOS) and then I used Garmin FR70, Edge 305 and Fenix 2.

To start off with Endomondo on iOS does not support a speed and cadence sensor so the only reason for this data point is a basis for GPS only data for trying to figure out if the app/device uses the wheel sensor to figure out speed and distance.

The Garmin FR70 does not have a GPS in it, so you are guaranteed that the speed/distance data it displays is from the sensor. So using these two data points we have our comparison points.

Let’s start out comparing cadence data over this ride. ANT+ can talk to multiple devices at a time, and iOS manages multiple apps wanting access to cadence data just like it does for GPS and heart rate. So here’s the average cadence data. In order FR70, Edge 305, Fenix 2, Wahoo fitness, Run GPS are 71, 71, 47, 68, and 69 RPM. So they all agree well except for the Fenix 2, no idea what’s going on with the Fenix 2. Now looking at Max cadence the data is VERY different 145, 163, 217, 136 and 196. So to say this is inconsistent is an understatement.

So now onto the speed side of the sensor: Comparing the GPS only Endomondo with the Speed sensor only FR70 for distance over the ride we have 24.48 Vs 28.21KM, or a difference of 13%.

The Edge 305 on the same ride saw 25.57KM, so in spite of seeing the speed sensor it is not using it for distance. In the owners manual Garmin state: “The speed data is only recorded and used for disatnce calculation when the GPS signal is weak or the GPS is turned off.” So I guess they really mean it. I had seen videos with the wheel being spun and the Edge showing speed even though it wasn’t moving. Seems that is misleading. Of course this also means me returning the Wahoo speed was unnecessary. Oops.

I did a second ride because on the first I had the speed side of the sensor off on the Fenix 2. Oops. On this second ride the Fr70 saw 23.25km and the Fenix saw 22.93 or a difference of only 1% confirming that the Fenix 2 does indeed support and use the speed sensor. Yay!

Now onto Wahoo Fitness app. One would hope if anyone would get this right it would be Wahoo. Why sell a sensor and then ignore the data from it. Sadly this is exactly what they do. The distance off Wahoo fitness came in at 24.4KM spot on with the GPS data. I am very disappointed in this.

Next onto Run GPS. They have BRILLIANTLY included a setting in the app to allow you to decide whether to use the sensor or the GPS for speed and distance. Why more don’t do this is beyond me. The consumer is left guess which it’s using, or in my case running a big test.
The data from RunGPS shows that they are perfectly using the data and it comes in at 28.4KM.

So in summary Endomondo doesn’t support the sensor, the FR70 works perfectly with it, the Edge 305 ignores (unless you turn the GPS off) and RunGPS nails it perfectly.

September 11, 2016 Posted by | GPS Stuff, iPhone Stuff | Leave a comment

Garmin Fenix 2

Garmin make some of my favorite devices but I have had to keep a number of devices around to do all I like to do. I admit to being a bit neurotic when it comes to having the perfect device. It’s probably worth setting the stage of the devices in my bag of goodies and when I use each to frame this review.

For mountain biking I love my Foretrex 401s big memory for waypoints (500), fantastic navigation, easy to read screen, and it’s use of AAA batteries making it possible to carry a spare set. The 401 however is getting long in the tooth and is having issues with it’s battery connector. It also requires a physical USB connection and a legacy upload to get data off it. And there are no heart rate alarms a feature I now consider a MUST have. Wheel sensors are sadly ignored from a data point of view … I also use it for hiking and kayaking, physically though it’s big on the wrist to wear for both.

My Garmin Fr70 is a great standalone watch, extremely readable in all light, year long battery life and a fabulous Ant+ data capture device for wheel and heart rate sensors and includes heart rate alarms (something I only recently discovered in training, alerts, heart rate, on and then set your custom hi and low levels). Garmin connect support is through an Ant+ USB adapter, but there is no GPS so no ability to use it to navigate. It also lacks chronometer functions. So this is largely a supplemental toy … It can’t replace any other device. Just another data screen while I am riding. Which, is not a bad thing.

My Edge 305 is a great cycling computer and includes heart rate alarms but is SERIOUSLY limited in it’s way point memory at 50. The larger screen makes it easily read when mountain biking but useless for almost anything else like hiking or canoeing. Syncing is done using a USB connection there is no support for Bluetooth or Ant+ sync. This has become my primary riding Garmin.

And thus we have the stage for the Garmin Fenix. Spec wise the device seems to be a little piece of heaven. It has a host of sensors that deny it’s size, ANT+ and Bluetooth support. I’ve looked at the Fenix a number of times but have been scared off by the price.

Ok let’s start by talking about what’s missing … There’s no daily activity or sleep tracking (that would be in the Fenix 3), there’s some notification support but it’s so bad as to be unusable (super small text, over laid notification support.

So that aside let’s look at the Fenix 2. Bargain wise it’s available on refurb for $199, compared to $499 (at GPS city) for the Fenix 3.

Let’s start out with the physics. This is a pretty large watch for everyday use. It’s quite thick and moderately heavy. Given everything in this package the size is understandable. It has a lot of sensors inside a digital compass, a barometric altimeter, temperature sensor, gps and accelerometers. There really is noting missing. If I had a wish on any previous device it’s in the Fenix.

The screen itself is a 70 x 70 pixels; transflective, monochrome LCD (negativemode-black). The displays is backlit in a florescent orange color. It is very readable in almost any light (with the backlight). The backlighting can be controlled as to always on, on after dusk, or programmable timeout, if they missed anything, on during an activity would have been handy. Other companies could learn from Garmin in something as simple as giving the user control of the backlighting. The displays low power contribute to it’s good battery life. The backlighting can suck juice so watch your setting. In always on in 10 hours it sucked up 23% of the battery so about 2.3% per hour. Ouch.

Battery life on this watch is dependent on what your doing with it. GPS mode draws the most. Watch mode the least. Measuring actual battery life is very difficult unless you dedicate time to doing just measuring the battery life ie not using the watch. So I don’t have actual numbers for you. Bluetooth can be used to sync the watch’s activities, but be patient it can take 5-10 minutes. Always connected is documented in a number of review sites as severely draining battery life. I didn’t find that but also noticed watch only battery life does not seem to be anywhere near what Garmin quotes: “Up to 50 hours in UltraTrac mode; up to 20 hours in GPS training mode; up to 5 weeks in watch mode”. On a 2.5 hour mountain bike ride using ant sensors and GPS in normal mode it consumed 10% of the battery so the 20 hour number they quote seems accurate. Battery status can be seen in menu anytime and gives an actual battery percentage I wish Mr F’nBit would learn this one.

As important as battery drain is battery recharge is too. This is by no means zippy. In just under 4 hours the watch charged 90% so roughly 0.4% per minute on a 500 mAH batter. The watch can be used while charging and there are ways to wear it and use an external charge pack for extreme battery life.

If your not going to use the watch for a while you can completely power it off by pressing and holding the light button. A welcome feature some watches forget. Yay!

The watch is controlled by a series of 5 buttons around the dial of the watch. They really don’t have a great feel when you press them. The default is no sound for buttons but fortunately can be changed. The buttons can be pushed with light gloves on but likely not with winter gloves.

Each and every time Garmin release a new product line they design a new user interface. It’s maddening and bizarre. Common interfaces make users learning curve to new devices small, and encourage upgrading. And if you have numerous Garmin devices as I do it leads to constant mispresses and quests to find a menu item. All of which distract from whatever it is your trying to do. Take the FR70 which predates the Fenix 2, as an example. The up down buttons are on the right along with the lap reset button. On the Fenix they are on the left. The only button location they didn’t change from the Fenix is the light button. Sheesh.

Garmin have included a small selection of clock faces to choose from and additional data that can be added to the clock faces. All in all it is not a bad set of choices. It’s no infinitely customizable smart watch, that would be, you guessed it, the Fenix 3.

There are a dizzying array of options that can be set on the Fenix 2 and they all have to be done on the watch (not on the phone). And there is no way to backup those options 😦

There’s a stopwatch, timer, and alarm all on the watch. They are all a little clumsy to use but work fine if you have the patience.

Outside of an activity the watch allows you to call up the compass, altimeter, barometer, and temperature.

Once you start an activity only those screens you have explicitly setup for that activity can be called up. Bizzare (so if you don’t have a compass data screen for example in your activity, no compass for you).

Waypoints can easily be transferred from other Garmin devices using Garmin basemap over USB. Waypoints can be added on the watch but it’s a little hard to find (press and hold the down button, or menu, tools mark point) and naming them is a little bit of a patience test. The font for the name of the waypoint is super small and hard to see in the best light let alone in the middle of a forest).

Navigating to a waypoint is equally clumsy. To start a navigate menu, user data, waypoints, or start, navigate, waypoints and then the waypoints are listed by proximity to you. You can do a search for a waypoint but there is no simple alphabetic listing of waypoints. Once you start a navigate only those screen explicitly defined for navigate (even when your in the middle of an activity) are visible. It’s a bizarre way to arrange things. And on screen you can see the direction to the waypoint and distance to the waypoint on another screen. The Foretrex gives you both on one screen so your not fussing while dodging trees.

I did notice once I loaded 500 waypoints into memory the watch became noticeably more sluggish.

The Fenix is a super flexible bike computer in that it supports power meters, speed only sensors, cadence only sensors and speed and cadence sensors. But be careful to select the right one when you set it up. I had made a mistake and setup my wheel/cadence sensor as a cadence only sensor and then wondered why it was ignoring the speed part of the sensor. DOH πŸ™‚

GPS can be manually turned off for indoor cycling with a speed sensor.

The sensors seem to have one memory for each category, one heart rate, one speed/cadence etc so if you use multiple sensors off and on it’s a bit clumsy and you will have to repair them each time your switch it up.

The heart rate alarms are also a little clumsily done. When an alarm is triggered a teeny tiny font comes up to say heart rate below (or above) and the value. It beeps only once, and the message stays on the screen for a period of time blocking your precious data display pages until you manually tell it to go away.

Battery nags started at 20$ but the watch continued to function including GPS until the bitter end πŸ™‚

So in the end, I am impressed with the Fenix 2. Outside of clumsy benus and poor buttons it’s an amazing device. Take everything in it and put it into a cycling size and I’d buy it in a heart beat. The nagging question is, given the cost delta of $300 is the Fenix 3 better enough to justify? Hmmmm

In terms of what could it potentially replace? It’s a great backup to the Foretrex 401, a replacement for the FR70 and a supplement to the Edge 305.


September 9, 2016 Posted by | GPS Stuff | Leave a comment

Training with a heart rate monitor

I’m a bit of a weekend warrior, I like to mountain bike. And I have always looked for ways to ensure I am at least maintaining my cardio endurance and hopefully increasing it as the season goes on. For a long time I have used a heart rate monitor to help this process. There are lots of kinds of heart rate monitors that I have covered over time on this blog. In the end THE most accurate heart rate monitor is a chest strap. It also as it happens, tends to be the least comfortable. When you are pushing up a hill breathing heavily the strap around your chest restricts your breathing. And sometimes the chest strap can come loose and slide down.

At this point I have three heart rate chest straps I use:
1) Polar H7 chest strap that broadcasts only on Bluetooth low energy. This can talk to my Polar A300 for excellent data recording, or to my iPhone running whatever app you want. Polars own app called Polar Beat can be used to send the bluetooth data to both Polar Beat and the Polar A300 watch. It’s reasonably comfortable, and for the most part stays in place. It runs on a replaceable CR2032 and from within some apps you can see the battery level of the heart rate monitor (I haven’t had this long enough to comment on battery life). Accuracy is good as long as you properly wet the contacts. The electronics snap into two clips on the chest strap. They seem firm enough to hold it in place.

2) Wahoo TICKR chest strap that broadcasts on both Bluetooth low energy and Ant+. I love this flexibility and it can broadcast to all of my Garmin devices as well as to my phone at the same time, or my Polar A300. Ant+ can broadcast simulataneously to as many devices as you wish. The Wahoo TICKR is oddly designed in that electronics clip into the middle of the strap meaning the electronics are being pulled by the strap. The TICKR is by far the most comfortable of the chest straps I’ve used and stays nicely in place. It run on replaceable CR2032 battery and you can tell the battery level from a number of apps on the phone (I haven’t had this long enough to comment on battery life). Via the Wahoo Fitness app you can even update firmware level. This is the first time I have ever seen this.

3) Garmin Ant+ chest strap. Now that I am on an iPhone this is of little use (My Samsungs had the ability to receive Ant+). It’s always been accurate anytime I have run correlation runs. It’s also the least comfortable, but is well designed and rarely moves on the chest at all. It runs on a replaceable CR2032 battery and gets something like a year battery life. It interfaces best with Garmin devices, which as it happens are my favorite bike gadget.

I also have a Scosche Rhythm+ heart rate monitor that goes on your arm and picks up the heart rate optically. This is by far the most comfortable of the heart rate monitors I use and my favorite. The Scosche broadcasts on both Ant+ and bluetooth low energy so is very flexible in terms of what it can talk to. It runs off a rechargeable battery and gets 6-8 hours of battery life.

And now comes the hot topic of accuracy. What is accurate enough? What are you wanting to do with the heart rate data? These are personal choices. When I first started using a heart rate monitor I used it only to get a more accurate count of the calories I burned on a ride to ensure I was working on endurance. Calories burned is a simple calculation based on length of exercise and your average heart rate. If this is all you care about then you ought to go for the most comfortable heart rate monitor because as you will see in a bit accuracy at each and every data point is not all that important in that it does not dramatically effect the average heart rate, and so does not effect calorie counts. Each app calculates calories with their own magical formula. Comparing calorie counts between devices, or between apps is frivolous because you have no idea or control on what algorithm it uses. So choose something (an app, a device whatever) and just stick with it. One of the things I do like to have is a complete picture of my entire exercise in a week. So if you wear an activity tracker (I have a Fitbit Blaze and Charge), you will need to see what data inter operability options there are. Preferably automatic. I use Garmin connect, Fitbit and Endomondo. They all share data to one degree or another and ends up with a complete picture of my exercise in one place, well actually two Endomondo and Fitbit. Be careful if you use multiple devices/apps that your not double counting your exercise. Generally speaking these can be cleaned up manually if need be.

I started to have some suspicions that my Scosche was becoming inaccurate which frankly was what prompted me to look at this topic again. So I started out with an over 3 hours bike ride and used my Polar H7 logged by my Polar A300, as well as my Scosche logged by my Garmin Edge 305. Using dedicated devices to do the logging (instead of a phone app) gives you much better data for crunching numbers. Apps like Endomondo are less precise about how often data is logged. For example during a 3 hour ride I saw sampling rates averaging once per 3.8 seconds (Vs once per second like clockwork for the Garmin, and Polar A300) and at worst when the phone was busy doing god only know what of 17 seconds. Interestingly enough it makes little to no difference on the average heart rate, and thus no difference on the calorie count. If you were using an app to alert you on max heart rates then this might be something you want to worry about. I saw similar sampling rates for Endomondo running in the foreground and backup on iOS and on Android by the way.

As you can see after an initial period the two tracked reasonably well. Crunching the data showed the two were within 10% of each other 97% of the time. That’s not bad correlation. And in the end it only effected the average heart rate by 2.4 beats per minute.

Calorie count is just one reason to wear a heart rate monitor. More serious athletes keep an eye not necessarily on the BPM but the zone your heart rate is in. Now being off by 10% at 180BPM doesn’t sound too bad but translate into BPM and thus into a heart rate zone and you have a bigger issue. Looking at the same data and changing the threshold to how often was the heart rate off by 10 BPM and you get a more troubling 10% of the time. And this is with the first 15 mins out of the data.

Another reason to keep an eye on heart rate is to watch to insure you are staying within a min/max. I use a heart rate alarm on my Edge 305 to insure I don’t spend too much time maxing out my heart rate. I either slow down, control my breathing or flat out stop. Being off by 10% again makes this difficult. Using the alerts on the 305 I have managed to lower my max heart rate by 20-30 BPM which has to be healthier. Similarly using the low alarm you can remind yourself when you are dogging it πŸ™‚

So now let’s have a look at a comparison of my Polar A7 logged by the Polar A300 and my Wahoo TICKR logged by my Garmin Edge 305. Now this is impressive.
Now this is what I call correlation. In the whole 3 hour ride the two were only off by 10% a mere 9 data points (seconds) in over 3 hours. Impressive. And if I change the threshold to 10BPM (instead of %) there are only 11 data points where they differ. It’s worth noting that wearing two chest straps in a bumpy sport like mountain biking can lead to the two just bumping into each other which may explain even the minor differences.

So all in all, give some thought to what you want to do with the data, and use that to choose how accurate you need your heart rate monitor to be and how much discomfort your willing to endure to get that accuracy! I love crunching number and doing data analysis …

July 12, 2016 Posted by | Activity Trackers, GPS Stuff, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Garmin Edge 305 review (take 2)

Dedicated followers may recall that I previously reviewed this device. Sadly I lost it not long after I got it so didn’t really get to totally explore all it’s features.


Currently I mountain bike with a Garmin Foretrex 401 and love it. The navigation is excellent, takes AAA batteries (so you can carry a spare set) and connects to ANT+ heart rate and wheel/cadence sensors. It has enough memory for 500 waypoints (the only device in this category even today). The large number of waypoints means I can carry all of the locations I go in memory and not have to preload them. 5 years later it’s still a fabulous device. It’s starting to show it’s age, the battery connector got bent. And my number one disappointment with this device is that it basically ignores the wheel sensor and always uses the GPS for speed/distance. Now on a road bike where your pretty straight this doesn’t make a huge difference but on a mountain bike where you are winding around constantly turning it can be off by a fair amount, think 10-30%.

To get around this I bought a Garmin FR70 just to record (and display) the data from the heart rate monitor and wheel/cadence sensor. Although I have to say I ignore cadence (the rate of rotation of your pedals). The FR70 has no GPS in it.

So I grabbed this Edge on ebay. The device has an ok size of screen, but given the size of the device Garmin has not made good use of the space on the display. Like a number of us, my eyes are not getting any better so having an option to have a larger font is nice, sadly this is missing on the Edge. It is however extremely flexible in terms of what is on the display. Completely customizable as most Garmins are. They do this very well.

The Edge connects by Ant+ to wheel/cadence sensor as well as heart rate monitors. Ant+ has the ability to transmit to multiple devices at the same time. A very nice feature. Now if you buy a dual band device (ant+ and bluetooth) you can add in connectivity to your phone as well. I’m on an iPhone. When I was on Samsung it too had Ant+ and the flexibility that offered was amazing. To check the wheel size I mapped out a route on Google using there distance calculation and then rode it and compared (once I manually set the wheel size).

Neither the FR70 or the Foretrex allow any kind of alerts for things like heart rate. Eureka, it’s there on the Edge. And very configurable. You can set a min/max heart rate and be alerted if you cross it. The Edge alerts you five times with a nice albeit annoying beep and then shuts up until your back in range. It really works well. If there is anything I wish Garmin had done was to make it easier to turn this on and off.

Waypoint memory size is limited to 50 you you have to pick and choose which to save. And if you add another one when it fills, it starts dropping ones off using some incredibly intelligent (I can only guess) method to it’s madness.

Navigation on the Edge is excellent. Well for the most part it is. You can navigate to a saved waypoint and it will show you a big display showing direction and distance as the crow flies to that way point. Garmin have always done this well. They have improved the usability to track back to the start and it shows your with a nice beep everywhere you need to turn to get back. Shows distance and time to get there. Perfect right? well on the road yes, but totally useless on a mountain bike path filled with turns. It just kept beeping at me telling me a turn was coming up. Ya how about you tell me when there isn’t one? And there is no way to silence the alerts (that I’ve seen). Oh well … There are two things on the Foretrex Navigation they didn’t include on the Edge. If you press and hold button on Foretrex you can navigate to a waypoint. On the Edge you have to press numerous buttons to get to the same point. On the Foretrex it remember where on the list of waypoints you last selected, on the edge it goes to the top of the menu each time. A little irritating.

I also noticed the Edge the map only shows the points on the map for the current lap. On the Foretrex it showed even past rides. I can see both good and bad in that.

The unit runs on an internal rechargeable battery that is charged by a mini USB port. So sadly you can not carry a spare battery and you better remember to charge it, or you may find yourself on a trail in the middle of nowhere with a dead GPS.

The Edge has heart rate alarms which you can use to insure I don’t spend too much time maxing out your heart rate. I either slow down, control my breathing or flat out stop. Using the alerts I have managed to lower my max heart rate by 20-30 BPM which has to be healthier. Similarly using the low alarm you can remind yourself when you are dogging it πŸ™‚ I love this feature and it will become a must have on future devices.

The Edge comes with two nice mounts making it possible to mount it on two bikes. And there are two different bike profiles you can setup and choose from. I had to dig to find how to choose the bike profile and eventually just stumbled on it (press and hold mode). The bike profiles allow you to set the bike’s weight (I have no idea what it does with that), as well the size of the wheel (or auto). I don’t really trust auto so set my own. I had read some reports that the Edge can fall off the mount so I put an elastic around it to the handle bars as a precaution.

The Edge unlike the Foretrex will always favor speed/distance from the wheel sensor! And in fact, there’s even a GPS off mode for using on a trainer. And next time you turn it back on it turns the GPS back on for you.

The screen scratches REALLY easily and is flush so if you drop it …

Once back in the house you sync your route with Garmin connect (their portal) using the Garmin Express app. It works Ok, but I am kind of disappointed it does not sync over ANT+. Firmware updates are also done this way.

Garmin do include an app called Basecamp to allow you get and edit your data (waypoints, maps and routes) to/from the Edge but this app is pretty poorly done. I prefer the older Garmin Metroguide.

I did have an issue with USB 3 on my laptop not working correctly with the edge. The way around it was to put a USB hub in between, odd but manageable.

So all in all I like the Edge, it’s discontinued now but there are lots around on ebay etc so dirt cheap!

June 23, 2016 Posted by | GPS Stuff | Leave a comment

Garmin Vivoactive review

I last reviewed the Fitbit Surge and while there is lots to like, it just wasn’t good enough for me to keep and wasn’t comfortable enough as an everyday wearable. So this one caught my eye. GPS City had refurbs on for a reasonable price so I decided to take the plunge. I first have to sit back and scratch things about what is it I am looking for in a wearable? Activity tracking (steps, sleep etc), secondary notifications, great battery life (5-7 days), and if it has some fitness elements all the better. A heart rate monitor on the device is a nice to have as long as it can connect to heart rate monitor somehow.

Let’s get the worst of this device up front. The screen on this device is bad. If you read any reviews on the device it gets maligned constantly for the screen and it has been well earned. It is dull at the best of times. Readable only in reasonable lighting/sun otherwise you have to use the back lighting. And the device could be hugely improved if Garmin focussed on the back lighting. The controls of the back lighting are awful. It makes no attempt to detect your hand moving to automatically turn on the back light. And the default timeout on the back light (which mercifully can be changed) is a ridiculous 8 seconds. What all this means is in anything but the best of lighting conditions it takes two free hands to check the time. You have to push a button toturn on the back lighting. Thankfully notifications do wake it up and turn back lighting on. The screen is a color screen but just barely. Don’t be looking for a bright vivid display and in fact don’t even bother with watch faces or apps that use color because it is almost indiscernible.

Ok now thats out of the way lets get on with the rest of my thoughts (assuming you are still reading). Physically the device is uber thin. Shockingly so. It has a nice rubber band that can be relatively easily swapped out and one size truely does fit all. The overall unit is light, comfortable and does not catch on shirt sleeves unlike so many other wearable. Physically speaking garmin did a great job. The device sadly is square. The reality is I prefer round (and I think many others do too). The device is charged with a proprietary dock that includes a magnet that pulls the watch onto the dock (and helps it make firm contact) and keeps it firmly in place. It works well enough. No complaints.

It does steps, and sleep tracking and has a pretty good Android app as well as a very comprehensive portal. I have numerous other Garmin devices so am well versed in the portal. All activities are sync’d wirelessly with your phone. It can also exchange data with both MyFitnessPal as well as Endomondo. Garmin have this pretty well done.

The device will even remind you when you have been too inactive.

Step wise compared with Google fit on day one:
13710 steps (11.1 km 2048 cals) Vs 11343 steps (5.26km 1898 cals)
on day two
16511 (13.37km 1815 cals) Vs 14310 (5.86km 1544 cals)

Sleep tracking is good enough for me and automatically detects sleep. You can manually edit the times it detects to insure your data is accurate. You get a picture of how sound you slept. All in all it is what I am looking for.

The device does notifications under Android very well and is completely flexible and tailorable in terms of what interrupts your day.
Screenshot_2015-10-30-10-09-58 (1)>

The watch itself does not have a heart rate monitor but in true Garmin style can connect to an ANT+ heart rate monitor as well as an ANT+ cadence/wheel sensor. Very nice!

Garmin a while back introduced a concept called ConnectIQ. It allows third parties the ability to develop for their watches. For this device this falls into four categories. 1) Watch faces (over 250 available) 2) Widgets (more than 50 available) 3) Applications (about 90 available) and 4) Data fields (more than 140 available). Widgets are little apps that open up when you swipe the display from the clock and display some content. There is some slight noticeable lag between opening the widget. If there is a lot of data to get like weather for example the delay can be seconds. Not exactly instantaneous. Applications appear in a tiled menuing system allowing extra content. Lastly data fields add additional content you can add to configurable apps like swim/bike etc. The built in apps are somewhat configurable in that you can select the number of data fields and what is in those fields. Unfortunately the smallest number of items you can have on a screen are rows of three making a data fields small and hard to read. Especially if your biking or running while trying to avoid things like, oh I don’t know trees πŸ™‚ Why Garmin did not allow you to have one large item on the screen is beyond me and seems a huge omission.

Text size throughout the watch is quite small which given the grainyness of the screen is an odd choice. And there is no where to change the default text size.

Garmin do include a widget for weather but I couldn’t for the life of me change it to Celsius in spite of following every instruction on how to do it. There’s also a music control widget that works fine but does not display the song being played (Android wear does for example).

There is a neat app that allows you to remember where your car is and then track back to it by pointing in the direction (and telling the distance) to your car. This could also be used for something like hiking. But frankly is pretty much the only way to navigate on the device. Unfortunate. There is no ability to save a waypoint and navigate back to it. Like you can on the Foretrex 401 I use all the time.

I quickly came to the realization that this device would not replace my Foretrex 401 while cycling/hiking. And would not replace my FR70 which I use as a bike computer. It would somewhat replace my Android wear watch. So in the end, I elected to return it while I could. A nice idea, poorly executed.

January 7, 2016 Posted by | Activity Trackers, Android, Electronic gadget reviews, GPS Stuff | Leave a comment

Data interoperability

If your like me you use a number of different gadgets and apps meaning your exercise data is spread out across a number of different platforms. Fortunately a number of companies have started to work on creating data bridges rescuing your all important data from being stranded on a island or stuck in the hotel California. Figuring all these inter connectives can be neither obvious nor simple. And if your not careful, you create a situation where exercise data gets counted once, or twice in the same portal. Manually exporting and importing exercise entries is sometimes possible (and sometimes not) but is inconvenient at best.

Getting all your data in one place allows weekly/monthly summaries to give you a clearer picture of how active you’ve been. But this is a lot harder than it ought to be. And thus this post.

I mountain bike, cycle, walk a fair bit, and do some hiking. Being the gadgeholic I am (and no I don’t need help :)) here is my basket of tools. From an app point of view I use:
Endomondo as my primary exercise tracking tool.
MyFitnessPal for tracking food data.
RunGPS is the best app for hiking in that it includes the ability to navigate back to way points and do point to point routing. (My Review)
Google Fit is a necessary evil of Android wear and includes a pedometer that can be used with or without a watch. (My review)

From a Gadget point of view I use:
Garmin Foretrex 401 whenever I cycle as well as canoeing etc. It supports full navigation back to waypoints as well as supports ANT+ cadence and heart rate sensors.
Garmin FR70 with an ANT+ wheel sensor to give me a more accurate display of distance which cycling. I have handlebar mounts for both the Garmin devices. Garmin devices upload only to their portal called Garmin Connect.
Scosche Rythm+ heart rate monitor
I have a Garmin wheel and pedal Cadence sensor that works with both of these devices as well as talks to my phone. Samsung a while back added Ant+ to their devices and I love it. Ant+ supports talking to numerous devices at the same time with one sensor. Sweet!
Samsung S5 is the center of my mobile universe (well it is for now).
Fitbit Surge as an activity and sleep tracker
Moto 360 (first gen) Android wear smartwatch

Below you will see a diagram showing the inter connectivity for these apps/gadgets. I’ve left off Facebook because at this point pretty everyone does Facebook so it just over complicates the diagram. Hope you find this helpful.


November 4, 2015 Posted by | Android, Electronic gadget reviews, GPS Stuff | Leave a comment

Fitbit Surge review

I have been looking at these for a little while, it peaks my curiosity. It has a lot of potential like a lot of these new wearables have. But more often than not this potential is not realized. At this point I have played with numerous Android wear devices most recently the Samsung Gear Live, as well as the Moto 360 but in the end the battery life on them sucks. If your lucky you get through a day by not touching the watch. Both have pedometers (but sadly Google fit remains an island of data that you can’t get off) as well as heart rate monitors (though wildly inaccurate, especially on the moto 360). I do love the ability to constantly change the watch faces (on Android wear). I’ve also played with a Garmin Forerunner 305 as well as Garmin Foretrex 401 (still my favorite device and I don’t go out for a mountain bike ride without it) and lastly Garmin Forerunner FR70. Fitbit wise I’ve played with the One, Flex and lastly Charge HR

So with these experience points in mind I was interested to see what this device could do. For another point of view be sure and checkout DC Rainmakers review of this device.

My firmware is at

Ok probably best to start out with what can’t this device do. It might rule it out for you right off the bat.

1) It can not connect to a Bluetooth heart rate monitor for more accurate exercise tracking. Wrist based heart rate monitors are not always the most accurate.
2) It can not be used to navigate even though it has a GPS. The GPS is used ONLY to log where you have been and calculate distance. By the way in a sport like mountain biking where you are doing a lot of twisting and turning GPS distance can be off quite significantly (compared to a wheel sensor), like 10-20%. It has to do with how frequently it samples the location.
3) The heart rate monitor on the watch can not pass heart rate data to anything other than FitBit app
4) you can not customize the watch face (outside of the watch faces provided). And no where does it tell you the current temperature (passed from the phone or otherwise).

So what can it do. Let’s start with the basics. It can do basic watch functionality including clock, date, timer, stop watch and alarms, all of which can be done on the watch itself except the alarm. Alarms can only be set on the web or the App.

It can also do everything the Fitbit Charge can do including continuous heart rate monitoring as well as exercise heart rate monitoring (more on this later), steps taken, floors climbed, auto sleep, etc. all the usual activity tracker functions.

This device also has a built in GPS which you can use in outdoor activities (hike, bike and run) to track your route etc.

There are also modes for indoor sports (non-GPS) including generic exercise (based on heart rate), elliptical, spinning etc.

On paper the device sounds like it is a jack of all trades. As always the devil is in the details so let’s jump into the details.

I’ve had a ton of experience with wrist based optical heart rate monitors from the Mio link to Android wear’s heart rate monitor. And if there is any constant its that for me, they all suck. Really badly. But then again maybe what is needed isn’t new tech but a level shift in expectations. If you focus rather on a point analysis of the heart rate data (which more often is an act of fiction) but instead on averages then maybe you have a more realistic expectation. And at the end of the day what really matters from a calorie count point of view is not high/low etc, it’s about the average. And if you can swallow this sad reality (these wrist based heart rate monitors are not that accurate) then maybe there is a place in this digital world for these devices.

Let’s start out with the display. This is a backlit LCD display making it a much better device for battery life and outdoor viewing when compared with the more traditional smart watch. And easily readable in the dark as well. The backlight can be set to off (for sleeping), on, and auto. In auto mode it attempts to detect when it’s needed. And if your sleeping that could be while you are tossing and turning. And in the dark if you turn the back lighting off your out of luck. You will need to wait until you get into the light to turn it back on. Why Fibit didn’t turn the back lighting on when you press the home button is beyond me. An over sight for sure.

The battery gauge is small and not the easiest to read. On the portal and the app all you get is a high medium or low for the battery. So it’s not easy to know just how much juice is left 😦 Fitbit make no attempt to tell you anything other than your battery is low charge it soon.

The experience (as a daily watch) is mired by a HUGE bezel as well as a shockingly poorly designed watch face featuring a small time display (on the default watch face) leaving a TON of wasted space on the wrist. The screen isn’t that big to start out with and to waste even a cm of it is a crying shame let alone how much of this watch face is often unused. This is a HUGE disappointment. And what a crying shame. Let’s put some numbers so you get a feel. The watch has a hard profile on your wrist of 33mm x 62mm. The screen itself is 20mm x 25mm. The default watch face shows the time in a 5mm x 10mm. So it utilizes 50/500 or 1/10th of the real estate. Ridiculous, and with an aging population whose eye sight including mine is fading fast. And if you take the whole profile it is using 50/2046 or 2.5% of the space. Silly. And it is really obvious when you see it on the wrist. I won’t say it looks bulky but to say it looks elegant would be a HUGE over exaggeration even to geek like me.

You have a total of 4 watch faces to choose from.
With the largest possible time display it’s 25mm x 8mm or 200/500 or 2/5ths of the display. This one is at least readable without my glasses. This is at least something I can hope fitbit will fix in future firmware releases.

Physically the watch is square with sharp edges that love to catch shirt and jacket sleeves. I found this an issue in everyday use as well as with exercise clothes for the cooler weather.

I have a super small wrist for a guy and I bought the small and this time around they really do mean it. It barely fits me. So be careful. I’ve read that the large and the small use the same electronics and just a different length band but can’t confirm that. The band itself is the typical rubbery stretchy band. It does not seem to be easily changed/replaced. Some have reported rashes from it. I found I had a minor irritation after a couple weeks right where the optical sensor is. It’s definitely functional and works fine. At least Fitbit didn’t try and reinvent the watch band unlike others.

On the underside of the device is where the sadly proprietary charge cable connects. Fitbit says 7 days (non GPS), 5 hours GPS battery life with a recharge time of around an hour. A charger is not included. Use a standard USB charger or plug it into your PC.

The cable is used only for charging and all data transfers are done using Bluetooth. The device supports both older Bluetooth (it refers to it as Bluetooth classic) as well as Bluetooth 4.0. You can disable classic Bluetooth support which likely saves battery life. They also include a bluetooth USB dongle in case your PC does not have bluetooth.

I searched and searched looking for how to do a factory reset of the device. I eventually discovered that pairing the watch with a new phone wipes all data and resets everything. I had to call their tech support to find out this one. And pairing the new device was done from the fitbit app not from the Bluetooth setup screen.

Once setup I was off to go.

The watch is controlled by a series of three buttons and a touch screen. It’s responsive enough and while not always intuitive you can easily get use to the controls.

The watch can do notifications from your phone for text, and phone calls. The notifications are strong and well done. You can drag it down and read the message but there is no ability to respond.

In bike mode (for example) the watch displays distance on the top in a small font, time in the middle in a large font and a selectable field of (current time, heart rate or calories) on the bottom in a small font. Beyond this the fields are not selectable. Garmin does a much better job of allowing the user to put what they want on the screens. Once an exercise tracking is started you can not move to the time display and put the tracking the background. Your stuck on the one screen until your done.

And the absolutely dumbest thing the device continues to track steps even while tracking biking (for example). So I got off my ride and it recorded over 7000 steps and 70 floors. Similarly it continues counting steps while your out running. Both end up double counting work outs. After 8 emails with Fitbit trying to describe to them the issue, I gave up 😦

At the end of the ride you get a on device summary. Very nicely done and probably the first time I’ve seen that.

Wearing the device is comfortable enough to be worn all day and night, and since battery life is multiple days you can use it as a sleep tracker. I did however find that wearing through a 2.5 hour mountain bike ride left my wrist sore from it bouncing around on it. There were no bruises perse.

Occasionally while riding I would compare the heart rate on the Fitbit with that of my Scosche Rhythm+ heart rate monitor (all the while trying to avoid trees πŸ™‚ It’s all fun and games until there is bark on the ground!). The Fitbit was off by as much as 15%. With a max heart rate of 200 on the ride this meant at times it was off by as much as 30bpm. But at the end of the ride the average heart rate over three different rides saw a variance of -2.5%, -1% and -13% or in bpm -4, -1 and -19. Each person has an acceptable amount they are willing to live with from an accuracy point of view. For me 10-15% is not great but not horrible either.

Heart rate data with fitbit is like the hotel California, you can checkin an time you like you can never leave. They do not allow you to export your heart rate data. So getting a clear picture of accuracy is really hard. So what I did was take a screen shot of the heart rate data of the first ride (that was -2.5%) and overlaid the data from my Scosche. It’s the best I can do. The graph actually shows the Fitbit tracked quite well. This is actually mountain biking too so rough terrain.

The second time around not so well. I am not sure if maybe it was looser around my wrist of if the right hand was worse than the left, and this time it was road riding which I would expect to be less challenging given the smoother terrain. This is the graph for the -13% ride.


Calories is always an odd one. In reality what matters is more about the relative calories than the actual number of calories so you can compare workouts. That said let’s compare the results from the same three different rides. I used Endomondo with a heart rate monitor for comparison. Ride 1 Endomondo 2004 calories Vs the Fitbit at 1240 or a difference of -38%. Ride 2 964 Vs 618 or a difference of -36%. And ride 3 1305 Vs 683 or a difference of -48%.

Distance numbers on all three rides was pretty spot on, so one can say the GPS is accurate. Here is the data:

I compared Google Fit running on a Moto 360 Android wear smartwatch with the surge and the number of steps compares well, but the translation to distance and calories is not great.

So to figure out how accurate the Fitbit is I went on a 1.5km walk measured by a GPS. Fitbit recorded it as 1km so it would seem that the fitbit translation into distance is a way off. Sadly I see no where to adjust your stride that would allow you to correct this error.

Wearing it sleeping is also comfortable enough. The backlight kept coming on as I moved around and sadly there is no easy way to 100% turn the screen off. You can manually turn the backlighting off. At the end of your sleep you get a report of how many hours, how it compared to your sleep goal, and how restless your sleep was. On the portal you even get a sleep efficiency (but not on the device oddly). And it doesn’t stop counting steps while your sleeping so you wake up in the morning and it has recorded steps. Last thing I checked I don’t sleep walk so it’s detecting tossing and turning through the night as steps. I also had a restless night where I was awake off and on through the night and instead of giving me a sum of the parcels of sleep I did get it gave me a couple of small sleeps. And this of course throws off the numbers. Less than perfect but not horrible either.

You can swipe and see the current stats for calories burned, current heart rate, steps etc. There is no screen to show constant heart rate, and no where can you see the current altimeter.

My bud setup the Android Fitbit app on his Blackberry Passport and the app works to some extent allowing you sync your steps etc but notifications would not work and regularly the app would complain about missing Google Play services which is a common issue with Android apps on Blackberry.

So in the end I am both impressed and disappointed. As an every day watch I really would LOVE to see better time display. As an exercise tracker it is convenient and acceptably (IMHO) accurate. The exceptional battery life is a huge step forward from Android wear. Is it a “superwatch” as they call it? Well I think that’s a bit of a stretch. And the price tag isn’t cheap for what your getting. But all in all I do like it. Enough to keep it? Hmmmm

October 19, 2015 Posted by | Activity Trackers, Electronic gadget reviews, GPS Stuff | Leave a comment

Garmin Foretrex 401 update

I bought a Garmin Foretrex 40 back in 2009 and it has been my trusted companion on my mountan bike and hikes ever since. I have a handlebar mount that keeps it always in view (this mount can be used on any watch sized device not just garmins).

I was thinking surely there’s a new gadget to displace this device after all this time? Or surely Garmin has come out with a new device to help me part with some more hard earned cash on gadgets?

So what is it that I use this for? I use it primarily for navigating around places I’ve been before but don’t necessarily know well. I have waypoints for every place I mountain bike. And with 500 waypoints that can be stored, I’m always ensured of having what I need while out on the trail. The unit does not have topographic or trail maps, but this has rarely been a limitation. It connects to Ant+ heart rate and cadence sensors giving you all the data you need. It’s simple and easy to use, and the data can be offloaded easily to Garmin’s portal. While the heart rate and cadence data is not supported you can manually upload the file from the Foretrex to the portal (by pointing at the GPX file on the foretrex). Oddly Garmin do not consider the foretrex a fitness device so they choose to not give calorie counts for this device. Odd. The unit is small enough to be worn on the wrist for canoeing, hiking etc. The AAA batteries make it easy to carry a spare set.

So what’s missing?
There is no link to the phone to allow you to upload your tracks on the Go. You have to use the USB port connected to a computer to pull the data off. The unit has Ant+ so it would have been possible to wirelessly send the data the way the VivoFit does.

There’s no temperature sensor in the unit. A minor nit. No calorie count (as previously mentioned).

The unit supports the Cadence and Speed sensor but basically ignores the wheel speed sensor and gets the speed from the satellites. Garmin’s note on the subject.

Ok so now I started looking to what might be out there. I was shocked first and foremost to see this unit is still being sold. 4 years is an eternity. No new models to replace it. And the only firmware updates in this time has been time zone updates. And add to that every one of Garmin’s newer cycle computers like the Edge 305 have significantly less memory meaning I would have to preload my device with the waypoints I need for the day. Something that is problematic at best. Shy of being SUPER organized.

None of the running focussed GPS watches include navigation back to a waypoint or trail. So these all get dumped. This is a primary function of this device for me.

So what this leaves me with is believe it or not there is no device to replace this with. If it were to break tomorrow (heaven forbid) I would buy the same unit again. Despite it’s limitations is still does exactly what I need. The display screens are highly customizable. Battery life is excellent. GPS sensitivity is amazing. Since the start I’ve found the electronic compass on this device useless (except when not moving and level) and turned it off.

All in all a great device. And one I would still recommend for people to buy today! $189 at GPS city, where I bought mine.

August 25, 2014 Posted by | Electronic gadget reviews, GPS Stuff | Leave a comment